By Dan grimmer
Public affairs correspondent
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Calls for a standards hearing into the conduct of the former leader of Norfolk County Council to be held in public have been backed by opposition councillors.
And council officers have switched the venue for Derrick Murphy’s standards hearing because so many people are expected to want to attend.
Mr Murphy stepped down as leader of the authority earlier this month, to focus on the standards hearing triggered by complaints from seven members of the public over his part in the sending of an email.
That email was sent by Kevin Vaughan, the political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall, to BBC Radio Norfolk, in April last year.
It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has long been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.
It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.
When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which concluded in the summer that Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.
Following the independent report, seven people complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour and the county council asked Jenni Richards, QC, an expert in local government, to investigate.
She concluded Mr Murphy should face a standards hearing, with her investigation finding he had asked Mr Vaughan to lie about who asked him to send the email and, in conversations with the council’s chief executive about the issue, Mr Murphy “gave answers that were misleading, evasive and lacked candour”.
That, she said, meant he did not treat Mr Vaughan with respect, amounting to a breach of the councillor code of conduct and bringing his office and the council into disrepute.
The standards committee must decide whether it agrees and whether to sanction Mr Murphy, which could see him censured, ordered to undertake training or even barred from council premises.
But whether the public and press will be allowed into the whole of the standards hearing will not be known until the hearing starts, although the council’s head of law has said it can be argued that: “The public nature of a politician’s role means that there can be no general expectation of privacy and that a politician must expect to have information as to potential wrong doing in a public role enter into the public domain.”
She stresses it is the committee’s decision, but Mr Murphy himself has said he wants it in public so “justice can be done and justice can be seen to be done” and opposition councillors have agreed.
Mike Brindle, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: “It is Norfolk County Council’s reputation on the line and it needs to be held in public. It’s a real test of the council’s willingness to appear open and to put its house in order.”
George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group, and Andrew Boswell, Green county councillor for Nelson division in Norwich, have both said the meeting should be public.
The meeting had been due to take place in the Cranworth Room at County Hall, which has a capacity for 60 people, but the county council has confirmed it has moved it to the Edwards Room, which can accommodate about 100 members of the public.